To fund the best science we need the best peer reviewers to assess the scientific merit of grant applications. Find out why you might want to join the ranks and learn what you can do to get involved.
Peer Review Service: Why Join?
Beyond the prestige associated with service as a peer reviewer, serving on a review committee is a rewarding and enlightening experience that can benefit you in various ways.
Though the honorarium you receive cannot compensate you for your time or for the service you provide the scientific community, remuneration comes in other forms. Read on to understand the benefits.
Apply Your Review Experience to Your Own Application
As a reviewer, you have a treasured opportunity to see pitfalls other applicants step into, without suffering the slings and arrows of a poor review.
You can also learn firsthand what other researchers do to impress reviewers and meet their expectations. For example, you can observe how others present the Significance and Approach sections of the Research Plan, which have the biggest impact on your score.
And, though you must protect the integrity of peer review and avoid conflicts of interest, you can get a glimpse of new research that may stimulate your thoughts and open future opportunities.
You can use this knowledge to write stronger applications. Even if your grantsmanship is exemplary, small improvements learned while being a reviewer can make a difference in whether you get funded or not.
Receipt Dates? What Receipt Dates?
Under NIH Continuous Submission policy, you can apply any time for any R01, R21, or R34* funding opportunity that uses standard receipt dates. Your application will be reviewed as soon as the next study section with relevant expertise meets.
Even non-permanent reviewers may qualify for this perk under NIH rules for recent substantial service.
If you’ve served and want to check if you qualify, see the list of Applicants Eligible for Continuous Submission.
In practical terms, continuous submission shortens the time from application to review by up to two months (one month for AIDS-related applications) and allows you to pick up a review assignment without missing your next application deadline.
As an example, here’s how the timing of a non-AIDS application corresponds to Council rounds:
- If you submit by December 16, your application will go to May Council.
- If you submit by April 16, your application will go to October Council.
- If you submit by August 16, your application will go to January Council.
For more on dates, see the NIH Frequently Asked Question “When will my continuous submission application be reviewed?”
*Note that the NIAID Clinical Trial Planning Grant (R34, Clinical Trial Not Allowed) does not follow standard receipt dates and is therefore not subject to the continuous submission policy.
You May Not Need to Leave Your Home (or Lab)
Some reviews are now being done using technology that eliminates one of the biggest burdens: travel.
You can teleconference into many meetings, and the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR) has more options for participating.
- Internet Assisted Meetings, where you log in to a website to enter scores and comments, engage other reviewers through a discussion board, and participate at your convenience through the duration of the review meeting. Your scientific review officer will monitor comments to ensure discussions reach a conclusion.
- Video Assisted Meetings, where you videoconference into your study section meeting. These are "hybrid" meetings where some members attend in person while you connect using a secure video link.
Learn more about virtual meetings on CSR’s Tools and Technology page.
Invest in Your Career
Think of peer review as an investment: you're giving something now (time, effort, and energy) in return for something more valuable over time (exposure, experience, connections, and a broader view of your field).
Your institution may even give you special recognition for your service.
Reviewers Have Our Thanks
Speaking of recognition, each year we post a list of reviewers at Thank You to Members of NIAID Peer Review Groups and Advisory Committees and write a newsletter article to highlight our gratitude. These volunteers donated valuable time and effort to make an enormous and irreplaceable contribution to biomedical science.
On the Fence? Talk to a Reviewer About the Experience
If you’re still unsure about volunteering, you can find out more about what it’s like. Use the list of reviewers in the Thank You link above, find a colleague who has already served, and ask.
How to Become a Peer Reviewer
Do you want to serve as a peer reviewer? You may not even need an NIH grant. Read on to learn about several ways to get involved.
Volunteer for an NIAID Peer Review Committee
We have four permanent review committees:
- Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome Research Review Committee
- Microbiology and Infectious Diseases Research Committee
- Microbiology and Infectious Diseases B Subcommittee
- Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation Research Committee
We also have many one-time-only Special Emphasis Panels that review applications and proposals where NIAID is the locus of review.
Serve on a Standing Study Section
If you have some review experience or you're an experienced investigator, you may qualify for membership on a CSR standing study section. These study sections review applications that may be funded by any NIH institute, not just NIAID.
For details on eligibility and the nomination process, go to CSR's How Scientists Are Selected for Study Section Service.
Become an Early Career Reviewer
If you've established a research career, you can participate in one study section meeting each year even if you've never received NIH funding. Get details at Early Career Reviewer (ECR) Program.
Sign Up for Temporary Service
You may be able to serve occasionally as a non-permanent reviewer.
Peruse CSR Integrated Review Groups and NIAID committees listed in the How to Volunteer for a Review Committee section above.
If you find a panel that interests you, contact its scientific review officer to see if there's an opportunity to participate in a review.
Please spread the word about review service and encourage your colleagues to come aboard—we (and NIH) are always looking for new reviewers.